Anthony Van Dijck
The son of an Antwerp cloth merchant and a talented embroiderer, van Dyck had a great talent for richly rendered textiles, and often depicted his subjects in fantastical costume against exotic backgrounds. Elegant and expensively dressed himself, as a young man he had risen through the studio of Rubens in Antwerp before travelling to England and Italy to work and study. Eventually settling in London he became the leading court painter of Charles I, creating a influential body of work depicting a sophisticated and richly attired aristocratic society.
Van Dyck was known for portraying women in loose, rather unbuttoned costume, in which vast sensual swathes of richly textured fabric made a fetish of the smooth skin of their exposed forearms and neck. As was the habit at the time, van Dyck only worked on the sitter’s face when the were in situ; their clothing was left behind to be painted at leisure in their absence, and their hands were painted from one of the models - male and female - that worked in the studio.
Even with its power and wealth diminished by decades of conflict, Antwerp at this time was still a key player in the trade of luxury goods, and its prominent citizens lived in high style. Contemporary visitors to the town noted the importance of textile and clothing industries in the city – one account recorded that the city had 524 tailors and stocking makers, vastly more than the 169 bakers and 78 butchers.
There was also a flourishing trade in second hand clothing and goods, sold in shops and auctions based around the Vrijdagmarkt area. Clothing was a valued and valuable part of the household wealth – good cloth and fine work had a long life, and was routinely transformed from one garment into another, or turned to show less worn portions on a visible part of a gown. Theft of clothing items was a common crime at the time, and prominent Antwerp householders specified the bequest of particular articles in their wills.